Fonda is Frank. Totally ruthless. What more proof do you need when his “introductory” scene is one of gunning down a whole family…even the little boy frozen to the spot who you’d hope would be saved? But no…not Frank.
He’s got his orders. The family that he’s just disposed of…well, the land is in prime railway territory and business is business. Railroad baron business. Problem is…there is a young widow around. And she’s on her way to the exact piece of land. The killings are pinned on outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) who befriends widow Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale). Together with Harmonica (Charles Bronson), he sets out to find the real killers. Of course, there’s more to this than meets the eye…Harmonica has his own motive…
Henry Fonda is just excellent. He has this perfectly calm coldness to him. Accentuated by the eyes. Especially in the close-ups. And there are plenty of those. Sergio Leone presents us with such wonderful visuals in this one. In fact, I believe those eyes are what the director really wanted to stand out. To be recognisable. As Fonda. From what I’ve read, Fonda arrived on set with a fake moustache and brown contact lenses…and that didn’t fly with Leone.
“People scare better when they’re dyin'”…what a ruthless character. And once again…he’s so casual around the unexpected business events. Things he didn’t plan on. And Fonda is absolutely, totally convincing. The real, nasty bad guy.
What I hadn’t realised until now (my lack of Henry Fonda knowledge) was that this role didn’t fit in with what he was typically cast as. He was always the good guy. And here’s something interesting I found on IMDB: Henry Fonda originally turned down the role of Frank. Director Sergio Leone flew to the United States and met with Fonda, who asked why he was wanted for the film. Leone replied, “Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera pans up to the gunman’s face and…it’s Henry Fonda” (until then, with one exception, Fonda had only been cast in “good guy” roles. Leone wanted the audience to be shocked).
But, not knowing this in the first place, I was still shocked at how ruthless a man can be. Fonda or not. I guess…at the end of the day, the actor totally managed to convince me . What sheer acting brilliance.
So, this being my first Fonda film, to me, he’ll always be the bad guy stereotype and I’ve yet to discover him as the nice guy. I’m sure I’ll be shocked…
For my other thoughts on this one…head on over here…here.
Now…head on over to Sat in your Lap for the other Fondathon entries …here.